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Including People with Disabilities in Responses to Coronavirus

The law requires emergency plans to be designed with everyone—not just nondisabled people—in mind.  Without these laws, institutions and authorities, whether public or private, have tended to craft plans that sideline the needs of people with disabilities.  In this unprecedented Coronavirus public health crisis, business, civic and government leaders have the opportunity to do it right—and the risk of doing it wrong.

Actions taken now can make a big difference in COVID-19 outcomes for the whole community, as well as public health emergency response in the future. 

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, National Call to Action

People with disabilities are demanding to be included.[1]  They have the law on their side.  In 2011, a federal court in New York ruled that New York City failed disabled New Yorkers in the wake of hurricanes Irene and Sandy:  “the City’s plans are inadequate to ensure that people with disabilities are able to evacuate before or during an emergency; they fail to provide sufficiently accessible shelters; and they do not sufficiently inform people with disabilities of the availability and location of accessible emergency services..”[2]  Other courts have agreed.[3]

Some cases and campaigns have already been successful; these are just a few examples:

  • Patients at a public psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C challenged the “lack of emergency planning and poor crisis management” that puts them at risk—most recently for COVID-19. [4]  The Court ordered the hospital to take immediate steps to prevent infection.[5] 
  • Deaf plaintiffs in New York obtained a court order requiring the Governor to have ASL interpretation at Coronavirus emergency briefings.[6]
  • People with disabilities in Louisiana advocated and persuaded authorities to issue guidance for health care providers to provide services in a nondiscriminatory manner during COVID-19.[7]

One way in which emergency planners can help ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are incorporated sufficiently into emergency plans is to include people with [disabilities] in the planning process.

Judge Jesse M. Furman, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled v. Bloomberg [8]

As everyone from governments to employers works to respond to this outbreak, they should take heed. 

[1] See, e.g., Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, National Call to Action (March 3, 2020), at

[2] Brooklyn Ctr. for Indep. of Disabled v. Bloomberg, 980 F. Supp. 2d 588, 597 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).

[3] See, e.g. Communities Actively Living Indep. & Free v. City of Los Angeles, No. CV 09-0287 CBM RZX, 2011 WL 4595993, at *16 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 10, 2011).

[4] First Amended Class Action Complaint and Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Costa v. Bazron, No. 1:19- cv-3185 (RDM) (D.D.C. Apr. 16, 2020).

[5] Order (Apr. 25, 2020), id.

[6] Order, Martinez v. Cuomo, No. 20-CV-3338 (VEC) (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 2020).

[7] Louisiana Dept. of Health, LDH Memo, Apr. 16, 2020, at; see Bech v. Louisiana, No. 2:20-cv-01048-ILRL-JVM (E.D. La.).

[8] 980 F. Supp. 2d at 600.

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